Khadi Through the Pigeon-hole

Missy Meemansa

Since the day mankind developed the sense of modesty, he found alternative ways to cover himself. The purpose to protect oneself had developed into modesty and further into adornment. Till date we have found evidence of natural sources being used as a garment. From cave-men wrapping themselves in the skins and fur of animals to keeping their parts as a token, a human began to explore new sense and emotions. Days went by and the mode of modesty evolved into a form of adornment. Centuries later, when civilisations were formed, the mere act of covering oneself was associated with the different strata of the society and one’s clothing was the most convenient trait to consider one’s status in the society. For instance, spinning and weaving was one of the craftsmanship practiced during the Indus valley civilisation. The earliest findings from the excavations show the possibility of spinning wheel to have been used and the Mesopotamian influence adds on to this possibility as being the inventor of earliest form of wheels. Not necessarily as advanced as the charkha but the existence of some form or other of spindles or spinning wheels is apparent.

Wool, linen and cotton was made from locally sourced and produced raw material, and the hand-made fabric was easily accessible to the people living in the society. Therefore, it was an inevitability for the mass to abundantly wear the textile that was easily accessible to them. Whereas, the higher class which had the access to traded good from different civilisations such as Persia, Mesopotamia and China  was able to dress in silks and to be adorned with precious gemstones acquired from said trades. This proved to be the easiest way to recognise someone was through their clothing. Thus the association of one’s societal status from his clothing began. 

Derived from the word khaddar (a course hand-woven fabric), Khadi has a glorious history woven through its warp and wefts. Throughout the antiquity of what could be considered as the Indian culture, khadi has attained its presence by the virtue of various evidences from the past; even in the contemporary context, the textile holds a prominent association with the indigenous aspect of the country.  When in the year 1906 Swadeshi movement came into play and the entire nation united to boycott every foreign product, Mahatma Gandhi reformed the Charkha (spinning-wheel) as the symbol of self-sustenance. Khadi became the representation of the Swadeshi good and propelled the idea of the movement in a much more louder voice, which became crucial in the fight for India’s freedom. Thus, the event became responsible for the term and the fabric to gain recognition globally. From being a textile Khadi went to become the unanimous voice of a nation to reject the oppressive foreign policies.

Since the time being Khadi became the symbol of nationalism and patriotism. According to Russian semiotician Pëtr Bogatyrëv who was conducting an analysis on folk costumes of Monrovia , “Clothes hold a symbolic significance : a garment is a sign, and wearing it fulfils specific functions that can coexist, or overlap, in the same item. When the dominant function is particularly strong, it neutralizes the others: for instance, the aesthetic overrides the practical function when the body is subjected to deformations or lacerations.”

-Patrizia Calefato, The Clothed Body. Berg, Oxford International Publishers Ltd. 2004 
 The similar phenomenon is evident with the evolution of Khadi. However, it is the matter of short span of time a symbol can be evolved into a stereotype, therefore, subsequently anyone who wore Khadi were to be perceive as a patriot, as someone who is bound to do good for the nation. However somewhere down the line the notion related to the fabric got left behind but the stereotype continued. 

In the contemporary context the typecasts have transformed but not actually reformed. If we take a look at the past till now there have barely been a politician who doesn’t wear the typical trademark of an Indian political fashion, a Khadi kurta. Still as of today, students of Jawaharlal Nehru University have been known for wearing Khadi kurtas and carrying khadi bags, a clear conviction of their political believes. Another can be the portrayal of a journalist carrying a sling bag made of khadi in movies and stories and the unforgettable, a postman’s bag. These stereotypes no matter how negligible or nostalgic, actively illustrates the contribution in the stigmatization of Khadi being a poor man’s fabric or being significant only for a political statement.

Admittedly on a positive note, the image of this textile has been gradually but effectively reshaping. Pertaining to the pragmatic and optimistic after effects of the Swadeshi movement the, Non-cooperation movement of the year 1925 lead to the foundation of All India Spinners Association. Which became a pivotal facet of the textile’s future. In the year 1957, after India became a free country All India Khadi and Village Industries Board came into existence; which will later become the KVIC – Khadi, Village and Industries Commission, which is the face of this indigenous textile. In order to promote Khadi and paint in a new light KVIC organised the first ever Fashion show to showcase Khadi garments in the year 1989 in Bombay (current day Mumbai), where an array of khadi garments were displayed on the runway in a way never seen before. Since then various fashion designers and fashion houses have been actively invested in promoting the fabric, which have helped them set their career in motion and provided them with an identity which will always hold an individuality in the coming future to set an example in the fashion industry.

Initially fashion designer Ritu Beri, a graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology worked closely with the KVIC and launched a Khadi collection and made Khadi the face of her fashion. Later in the year 2016, she once again introduced a khadi collection named Vichar Vastra for KVIC. Nevertheless, Beri isn’t the only designer devoted to khadi, many fashion labels and houses big and small have been participating in put khadi on a higher pedestal. According to the fashion theories of various researchers and experts, a popular fashion is borne from the psychological need of the society, whereas, the high-fashion is cultivated from the Philosophical need. Khadi has yet to attain a middle ground to establish it magnitude in Fashion world.

As the British sociologist, Morris Ginsberg says, “society as a collection of individuals united by certain relations or mode of behaviour which mark them off from others who do not enter into these relations or who differ from them in behaviour”,  the concoction of divergent psychological credence is the only thing to bring khadi to the up-front as the representation of Indian Fashion.

In 2018, the fashion show ‘Khadi – Transcending Boundaries’ brought together reputable fashion designers with global recognition together to amplify the buzz around khadi.  Rohit Bal, Anju Modi and Payal Jain established a stronger suit for Khadi to be recognised in the international markets.  Shruti Sancheti, a fashion designer who built her label on the idea of choosing statement over style has worked with fabric to create her Luxur-Pret label ‘Pinnacle’ which is a marvel in itself. The household and the global name of Indian fashion industry, Sabyasachi Mukherjee launched his latest Khadi couture collection namely the ‘Neo Bohemian’. The collection being the perfect balance of the soothing khadi allure with the signature Sabyasachi vibrance. 

Additionally, numerous fashion and lifestyle brands that are associated with hand-woven fabric have been doing great in Indian markets, and even gaining recognition outside the country. Fabindia and Khadi India currently have the strongest grasp of the textile market locally as well as internationally.

If we were to totally forget the remove the stereotypes surrounding this indigenous fabric for even a instance, the textile has great potentials to stands out given its versatility. Arguably the most suitable fabric for the Indian climate, khadi has been slowly creeping up to the likes of younger mind-sets. The notion of a “woke” citizen has already been rooted in the psyche of the fast-pacing generation. From information being shared at a lightning speed it has become easier to influence a mass, and the buzz around the sustainable fashion has brought the limelight over Khadi. The fabric may have been type-casted in a minuscule box, but the ever-growing concern for our planet has manifested the immediate need of the fabric. 

Culture is bound to change on basis of knowledge, perception, traditions and cultural trades and youth and the upcoming generation is well aware and even more so concerned for the planet. Evidently, this has led to the changes in the fashion culture among the millennials and the Gen-Z. Popular and Fast-fashion which was the most influential and profitable fashion sector has gained the much awaited discredit. The fashion industry has been one of the major industry responsible for the declining ecosystem, consequently resulting into pushing away its consumers. For the current situation of our planet, humankind is solely at fault and the confirmation for taking this responsibility is well reflected in the buying habits. A huge chunk of population has moved towards sustainability and slow-fashion. 
Considering the popularity of khadi, India has a great tool to actually establish itself onto fashion radar globally. India has had enough of the flashy and over-vibrant portrayal of its fashion industry. In this time and age Khadi can be answer to sustainability. The step towards sustainability and slow fashion is very prominently evident in the national brands. Brands which may not have been yet recognised internationally but are promising enough to do the same. Label 11:11 from Delhi has gained interest as an ethical brand bridging the gap between the artisans and the customers. The founder Shani Himanshu and Mia Morikawa has devoted the label to be eco-friendly by  opting for vegetable dyes over chemical dyes which also helps them to better sustain itself. Mumbai based label ‘Runaway Bicycle’, by Preeti Verma has incorporated khadi in their own artistic interpretation and is curated for comfort. Another ground-breaking work is from the label, Khadiwala Designer from Jharkhand. Founder Ashish Satyavrat Sahu the brand is ardent to promote the raw indigeneity. The label has a very distinguished style. From contemporizing the traditional weaving to casting models from Jharkhand, this brand has been promoting originality through and through. 

French semiologist and philosopher, Roland Barthes says, “ Every fashion is a refusal to inherit, a subversion against the oppression of preceding fashion; fashion experiences itself as a right, the natural light of present over past”. Perfectly so, this sums up the fashion cycle. An inevitability of recurrence of a fashion trend is always possible, but the present sense of a society is the only absolute variable in this equation. The dynamic nature of culture has influenced the minimalist and artistic zeitgeist of the present times. The earthly community has been seeking an escape from the uncertainty that has suddenly imprisoned it and fashion being the tool to express themselves, has been the perfect canvas. 

To sum up everything that has been stated, khadi has been generalised for too long and the potential of treating a hand-woven fabric as same as any luxury, hi-fashion commodity from the western culture, is being wasted over mere stereotypes. Khadi is the answer to the future in which the fashion industry is headed towards. The fabric which holds the humble yet generous accounts of being a powerhouse of opportunity to the weavers, local fashion designer and the economical profit for the nation. The idea of making Khadi a global phenomenon might seem like a bluff, but it certainly is not. In my opinion khadi can be the pinnacle of slow-fashion and sustainability across the planet, if utilised wisely. From the weaving, dyeing, and the manufacturing process of the textile, the whole ordeal is much or less entirely sustainable and with the vision of some of the most promising designers, budding from the very core of the zeitgeist of the present times, those who know the pulse of the current population, Khadi stands a chance to befit the vogue and to evolve with the future into something, which will be the foundation of the upcoming fashion culture. To become more than just a still-developing nation’s handicraft. 

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